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Addressing Digital Distractions – How To Establish Alternative Habits In Early Childhood?

Written by: Angela Mischkulnig, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Angela Mischkulnig

Currently, time-poor parents are confronted with a plethora of digital devices and apps, marketed to soothe, entertain and enhance learning experiences for young children. Many parents and caregivers worry about too much screen time negatively influencing their children's development.

photo of a young child using tablet

Emerging studies indicate possible consequences of relying on digital devices to soothe children aged three to five years. A study conducted by the University of Michigan called 'Frequently using digital devices to soothe young children may backfire' reveals that such practices can lead to increased emotional dysregulation, possibly followed by behavioural issues, particularly in boys. This outcome arises from a lack of opportunities for children, to independently develop alternative self-regulation techniques and points out the importance of digital devices not becoming a habitual way to soothe or entertain young children.

In knowing about these possible consequences while considering how busy parents are, what alternative habits can be established to foster self-regulation skills in young children?

Firstly we as parents need to be aware that we are role models for our children, ensuring that we have effective strategies for managing distractions, especially regarding digital devices.

Creating new habits is not always easy, but does pay off in the long term. Instead of resorting to offering phones or other entertaining devices when a young child feels bored or frustrated, it would be more beneficial to start creating a habit of setting up independent play opportunities where the child is safe and a parents is nearby. Independent play is a form of play where a child can play alone. As toddlers develop, they become more immersed in playing using their imagination.

Establishing independent play routines that quickly become familiar is vital for developing self-regulation skills and can minimise reliance on digital distractions.

If young children struggle with playing independently, start with very small-time goals. In the beginning, some children might feel insecure and need an encouraging parent who provides suggestions, offers a time frame, let them know what will happen and stay nearby.

Provide versatile open-ended toys or materials like wooden blocks that children can play with in multiple ways, have no set purpose, spark creativity and allow diving into imagination. These kinds of toys foster self-regulation and encourage exploration.

Try to minimise distractions at home and avoid overwhelming young children with too many inputs. Especially at home in a familiar environment, cardboard boxes, pillows and blankets are great objects for exploring and acting out ideas. Activities like these are very engaging and offer great sensory experiences for young children.

Note that electronic and battery-operated toys tend to overstimulate children, leaving them in a passive state as the only purpose of the toy is to entertain. Natural materials like wood have a calming effect and encourage engagement.

To support pre-schoolers in building self-regulation strategies, they need assistance in learning how to identify emotions. Besides having conversations and providing books with visual representations, stories and role-playing offer suitable opportunities for exploring sentiments, perspectives and ways of interacting.

Offering age-appropriate activity books, which cover themes a child is currently interested in, can serve as a valuable element for sparking curiosity and are great alternatives to digital devices when we are running errands on a busy day, have to bridge waiting times or simply having a quick catch up with a friend in a cafe. Children who struggle with staying focused are more likely to be kept engaged by exploring interactive mechanisms in books like sliding, moving, pushing or opening elements with their hands, experiencing sensory inputs through diverse materials. This activity supports not only a child's attention span and sensory perception but hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills.

Compact versatile travel toys that are easy to take along, are great for fostering play when parents are out and about and don't have the time to give their children their full attention. These are the times when parents are probably most like to restore to digital devices so why not keeping such a toy in the car or the pram to alleviate the need for constant planning.

By implementing these strategies parents can effectively create healthy alternatives to minimise reliance on digital devices benefiting everyone involved.

For more information about how children learn through play and for clever designed open-end travel toys visit our website ‘The Wonderful Little Suitcase Company’ or connect with us on Instagram.

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Angela Mischkulnig Brainz Magazine

Angela Mischkulnig, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Angela, Co-founder of 'The Wonderful Little Suitcase Company' is a skilled Australian-based designer with a background in pediatric speech therapy focusing on children with developmental disorders. Combining her knowledge of child development and parenting, she creates imaginative and sustainable toys that promote playful learning. In recognising the growing impact of digital technology on very young children, she is committed to offering engaging alternatives for busy caregivers. With a German B.A. in Design, an Austrian Speech Pathology degree with over a decade of experience working in Austria and Liechtenstein and additional studies at Stanford Center for Health Education, she applies her expertise to nurture children's natural curiosity.



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